With three years behind them, it is time for F1's smallest teams to start proving that they deserve a place on the grid.
That is the view of BBC
pit-lane reporter Lee McKenzie who, while understanding the plight being faced by both Caterham and Marussia as the economy tightens its grip, reckons the time has come for them to either be scoring points or providing a means of promoting young talent into bigger operations.
Of particular frustration for the Scot is the turnaround in driver strength at the two remaining teams – HRT having bowed to financial pressure and folded after last year's Brazilian Grand Prix
– which once boasted established talents and are now scrabbling around for drivers with the biggest backing.
“We can't really call them 'new teams' anymore, and it disappoints me a little bit to be in a situation where [Caterham] start off with Jarno Trulli
and Heikki Kovalainen
- who can set up cars, bring a wealth of experience, have been on podiums, won grands prix,” she told Crash.net
before jetting off for last weekend's Australian Grand Prix, “[They are now] taking two drivers, and I'm not saying they're not good drivers as Giedo [van der Garde]'s been in GP2 a long time and won races, and Charles [Pic] comes with a decent reputation, but to have got to that stage now, I don't know, it doesn't quite seem right.”
Even though Marussia was forced to dump Timo Glock
in favour of a 'pay driver' – and suffered the ignominy of seeing its first choice have to back out after his sponsorship failed to materialise – McKenzie can at least see signs of ongoing improvement at the Banbury outfit.
“Marussia, it seems to me, each year seem to be making steps forward, which is the most important thing because, if you're not making progress in anything that you do in life, I think that's quite disappointing,” she explained, “They had a bad situation in the winter, and I feel sorry for Marussia, and very sorry for Luiz Razia, who's a nice guy, but they're now in a situation where they have Jules [Bianchi], who is a talented driver, and Max Chilton, who is beginning to show his promise and is a corporate dream, so hopefully they will be strong this year.
“They're not going to take on the world, but they need to be scoring points. These teams need to prove that they're in F1 for a reason, not just to be a moving chicane and be overtaken. They've got to give something back [like] Minardi used to. If you're starting young drivers off and feeding them in [to F1], that's absolutely fine as you've got a reason to be there, but you've got to show your worth.”
HRT's exit will at least have a positive knock-on effect for spectators, as the reduction in the field to 22 cars will require a change in the qualifying procedure, with two of the bigger names now facing an early bath in Q1 on a Saturday afternoon.
“[HRT's demise] makes Q1 a little more interesting because I could have stood at the side waiting for the drivers to come through and it would always be [the same] six drivers plus one other,” McKenzie commented, “That's gone now, and I think there will be a few nervous people on a Saturday morning not wanting to drop out in Q1. It's a shame, though, as the guys at HRT worked incredibly hard - they were a decent bunch of people and your heart does go out to them - but that's just the way it is at the moment.”
Caterham and Marussia will field three of the five rookies on the grid this season, with Williams
and Sauber the others, and McKenzie reckons that Valtteri Bottas is one to keep an eye on, despite not having raced anything for the whole of last season.
“It'll be a harder task for Williams, although the new car does look strong,” she noted, “Pastor [Maldonado] can be quite mercurial, but I do think he can be a talent, while Valtteri is very exciting as a driver.
“I hate it when people say 'a world champion in the making', but I know him personally and he's a really committed guy - one of the most committed, dedicated people you'll come across. He's a really decent guy, and an incredibly talented driver, [but] whether Williams
can win, I'm not sure. I'd like to think that they could certainly be challenging for a podium - they wouldn't have thought that they could have won last year, so that was a bonus.”